What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question often asked of young people. Heck, you may still ask it of yourself.
What if you had lots of choices? Here are some ideas: automotive collision technology, automotive technology, computer technology, construction technology, cosmetology, culinary and pastry arts, early childhood education, graphic communications, health occupations, laboratory technology, media marketing communications, physical therapy professions, welding technology, criminal justice, environmental science, medical professions, and even heating, ventilation and air conditioning/refrigeration (HVAC/R).
These are the choices right off the website of one Career Technology Education program for high school students. Every school has a wide variety of courses. How do these compare to the programs your school offers?
These CTE courses are all possible by several school districts combining resources.
Yes, this is in another state. However, Virginia has the Governor’s School for gifted and talented students and regional special education programs.
These are programs in which school divisions work together to create joint programs where all students have the opportunity to receive the best education possible.
Why can’t there be a Governor’s School for CTE? What if a centralized location with all of the above course offerings plus others like cybersecurity or engineering design could be created for the New River Valley?
Radford would be an ideal location geographically and could be the hub of a wheel that would include Montgomery, Pulaski, Giles and Floyd counties (perhaps others). Let’s call this program the New Visions CTE Center (double meaning with new: river and innovative).
Perhaps CTE regional centers could be established throughout the state. Manufacturers are begging for skilled labor. What if these centers included courses specifically designed to meet the needs of a Volvo, Corning, Kollmorgan, Carilion or other industries and professions?
Is there the possibility of public-private partnerships for these regional centers where the state, local divisions and private industry all contribute funds and have input into the development of the curriculum?
In addition to the school systems forming cooperative services, New River Community College, Radford University and Virginia Tech could create stronger ties with New Visions. Right now, there are some dual course offerings, free access to NRCC courses through district/NRCC initiatives and some cooperation among the four-year universities and individual divisions. Why not think bigger?
What if the governor and state legislature provided funds for colleges to work closely with school divisions to pursue regional centers with a curriculum continuum that included a sequence of courses leading to certification, associates, bachelors and masters degrees?
Students could decide where they wanted to take an off-ramp into an occupation, but there would always be jobs available because of the match between the curriculum and industry/professional needs.
Right now every individual school division tries to provide CTE courses for a limited number of students within the division through a limited budget. The course offerings are also limited, so students don’t have the opportunity to explore courses of interest or those needed by manufacturers or professions.
What if New Visions offered an automotive technology course and there were eight interested students from Montgomery, five from Pulaski, four from Radford, and three each from Giles and Floyd?
That would be a class of 23 students. Some of those localities could not afford to offer the course by themselves, but together they all could.
Now, this is not a consolidation of divisions—every locality wants to keep its own community school—it’s merely a recognition that by working together, each division can offer their children a better education. This plan would take cooperation, and there would need to be scheduling, budgeting, staffing and many other solutions.
Communities in the NRV realize that working together in a united fashion with tourism, attracting business and industry, and providing services helps all localities. The same thing can happen with the Regional CTE approach.
Young adults are moving out of many areas because they can’t qualify for jobs due to the lack of professional preparation.
Industries move to areas with the availability of a skilled workforce. Right now there is a disconnect between the needs of business and the educational system.
Why not create a synergy where education, industry/professional/trade openings, and student interest all meet?
Yes, there are legislative, budgeting, and logistical issues that must be overcome, but they can be. The governor and our representatives can work to pass legislation and find funding, just as the Governor Schools did in the 90s.
School divisions and localities can work cooperatively for the benefit of the entire region.
Business and industry can help support plans that will create feeder programs of skilled employees to meet their needs now and in the future.
Most of all, students can learn trades and skills that will allow them to become productive members of the workforce and the local community. Communities will prosper and grow.
Or, school divisions can continue to exist in isolated silos and struggle to meet the needs of the children and the community with limited budgets and resources.
Students in other areas have access to the courses they need for the 21st century—many of our children don’t.
The New Visions CTE Center may be the answer, and the question is easy:
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.